Nov 202013

Have you ever heard of a “memory leak?” It’s a classic problem in programming computer software.

A memory leak occurs when an application doesn’t let go of memory when it is done using it. For example, an ATM shouldn’t try to keep information about all customers that have used it in the past week. It only needs to hold the current customer’s information. Once a person logs in, makes a transaction, then logs out, the transaction is stored permanently in the bank’s systems. The ATM is done with that customer, so it should free its memory and wait for the next customer.

If the ATM isn’t programmed properly, it might not free up all its memory after each customer transaction is finished. Over time the machine has less and less memory until it starts to run slowly or crashes. The memory seems to leak away. It’s there, but the flawed programming doesn’t use it efficiently.

A person doing artistic work can have memory leaks too. A human “memory leak” is a common cause of the sluggish, stuck experience known as a “creative block.”

Often A blocked writer starts getting ideas when he frees up his brain’s memory capacity. The grocery list, the dog’s facial appointment, and the sequence of episodes in the first four seasons of his favorite TV show take up valuable brain power that could otherwise be used for creating and editing. The grocery list can be written down, so it doesn’t need to be held continually in his mind. The dog’s appointment can go on the calendar. And, well sometimes trivia about TV shows really isn’t very important, is it?

A musician waiting to go onstage holds a tremendous amount of cognitive and emotional information in her mind. “I’m nervous. I want to make a good impression. Did I forget anything? Why is the light so odd in this place?” That information is powerful. It sends messages to the body such as, “Be alert! This is a vulnerable situation.” If the fear response escalates, she may experience Shaky hands, sweaty armpits, and a dry mouth. She may feel stiff, stunned, and blocked, wondering why things are always so scary onstage.

If she can free up some brain power by letting go of the “worry” information, then her mind and body will have resources available for making music and connecting with her audience. However, if her mind holds onto those “I’m scared” feelings and thoughts long after they have served their purpose, she will not move efficiently from a defensive state to a confident one.

Here are some simple things you can try to reclaim some brain power when you feel blocked:

  1. Take long, deep breaths
  2. Write down to-do lists
  3. Watch less TV
  4. Take a few minutes to do nothing
  5. Replace a worried thought with a hopeful one
  6. Start your creative work earlier in the day
  7. Write your appointments and reminders in a calendar
  8. Take a nap
  9. Avoid trivia
  10. go for a walk or a run
  11. Make time to daydream
  12. Change your routines regularly
  13. Spend time with an animal
  14. Go to bed a little earlier
  15. Fall in love with your creative endeavors
  16. Say encouraging things to yourself every day
  17. Keep working even when you don’t feel like it
Jun 302013

Recently I worked with one of my musician clients to practice for some radio interviews. Here are some of the things we worked on.

get in and get out. Time is precious when you are taking part in any audio or video interview. If it’s live, you won’t have much time to stop and fix your words. Become comfortable with making complete responses in little bites of ten seconds, twenty seconds, thirty seconds, one minute. Finally, practice answering questions in exactly one sentence.

Talk about one thing. How would you answer the question, “So tell me how you got started with music?” You could describe your mom’s singing to the car radio, the music at your neighborhood synagogue, and how you loved a certain Brahms record when you were in high school. Try saying one thing, not everything. “I heard a lot of great music going to synagogue as a kid.” That simple response says tons and will lead the interviewer toward questions about tangible, specific, and memorable things.

Simplify. Call yourself a jazz performer, even though that isn’t exactly who you are. Call your music “roots” even if you don’t quite enjoy that label. Let an interviewer refer to you as an “emerging” artist, though that might feel a little patronizing. Create a three-word phrase to describe your music. “Mellow Americana.” “Nineties country.” “Urban story songs.” It’s like having a business card, just a little something that helps you stick in people’s memories. You’ll also need some pithy, simplified phrases to describe your music when talking to presenters, DJs, producers, and so forth. Trust that the folks you are talking to will understand that the simplified verbiage is just a hint of something far more substantial, and you would give them more if only time would allow.

Perform. Think ahead about what you want to show of yourself, and what you will keep private. Just like performing on stage, you create your performer persona. Be engaging, interesting, provocative, fun–whatever you do to get your music out to your audiences will also carry well in an interview.

Expect bad questions. An interviewer might ask you about your love life, or might make an inappropriate joke about your age, gender, or ethnic background. Assume the worst and most awkward questions will come up sooner or later, so think ahead of how you will respond to them. You might go with, “I don’t have anything to say about that.” Or, “That’s an insulting thing to ask.” Or, “I don’t know what to say about that, but let me go back to what I was saying about my new CD … ”

In my coaching practice I work with musicians, writers, and other artistic people on practical things like preparing for interviews. I also help my clients find fulfillment and accomplishment in their creative endeavors. Drop me an email if you’d like to find out more about my creativity coaching services. I’d love to hear from you!

Feb 182013

Every time a musician says “no” to a gig, he is making his circle of opportunities a little smaller. When he’s feeling tired and wanting some chill time at home on the couch, someone else with more motor will take his spot and keep it.

Every time a pianist says “no” to practice, she’s saying that music is not as important to her as it is for some others. On the days she doesn’t practice, someone else is racing ahead to push the music a little further.

Every time a singer says “no” to fixing a mistake in practice, he’s telling himself the mistakes are OK. He’s made that mistake twenty times in the past, and he’s sung it correctly maybe once or twice. He may need to sing it right fifty or a hundred more times to patiently untrain the mistake.

Every time a novelist says “no” to writing, she is missing the opportunity to make her draft a little better. Other writers out there aren’t skipping as many days, and some of them will make it mainly on their drive and dedication.

Every time an artist says “no” to his most important project in order to dabble in something else, he is robbing the left pocket to fill the right one. Spending energy on a frivolous diversion with no intention to complete it diminishes the soul of his main pieces.

Every time a poet says “no” to working because she is worrying and doubting, she acts unkindly toward herself. Doubting herself means she doesn’t consider herself equal. Worrying denies that working very, very hard is what makes brilliant art. She does well to hold onto the truth: She is equal, and the best thing she can do for her creative heart is to work like she loves it and means it.

When you feel discouraged, lazy, distracted, or worried about your artistic work, bravely say “yes” to your creativity.

Jul 222011

There’s a danger in getting personally involved when reading memoirs of artists, musicians, writers, and other creative people. These books can distort your perspective on your own times and leave you in unrealistic comparisons with others. Admire your heroes, though you can never follow exactly in their footsteps.

Take as an example the first generation of rock musicians, from the middle 1950s through the 1960s. Those were very tough and unique times in America and Britain. The end of the second world war, the introduction of television, multi-track recording, electric guitars. The civil rights movement, Kinsey reports and Masters and Johnson, the Vietnam war, the killing of America’s progressive leaders. Those were troubled decades, and looking back one sees more differences than similarities when comparing today with the lives of the first rockers.

As I’m reading Patti Smiths memoir, Just Kids, for the second time this summer, I’m experiencing a stronger connection to her words than I usually feel for a memoir. I’ve read memoirs by U2, Clarence Clemons, Keith Richards, and Pat Benatar recently. Digging into their creative process and business struggles fascinates me and inspires me. But I keep a safe distance, knowing that I have to make my own life in my own times. Patti Smith’s book is different, because I feel the emotional power in her honest and intimate words.

Smith’s memoir focuses particularly on her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe from the late 1960s through his death twenty years later. She tells their stories in clear, emotional insights, how they met, fell in love, and struggled day by day to create artistic lives in New York City. It’s rare to find such self-aware description of the inner thoughts, dreams, and feelings of young creative hearts. Smith describes her first attempts in poetry, art, theater, and eventually her poetic punk music that broke open new directions for rock. She also describes Mapplethorpe’s early installations and fashions and how he eventually found his voice through photography.

There’s a lot of mundane detail in this book–so many outfits, names, and references. Smith is brilliantly literate and tells her story in her own terms, and I honestly can’t keep up with many of the artists she mentions. But the mundane details go hand in hand with the very personal telling of the two young artists in New York City’s artistic cauldron. There are some great stories about celebrities of the time, such as Sam Shepard, Janis Joplin, Harry Smith, and Johnny Winter.

If you feel a connection to Patti Smith’s music or Robert Mapplethorpe’s art, you’ll find this book a stirring experience.

Jul 192011

In The Inner Game of Music, Barry Green has a great chapter on integrating the analytical and intuitive sides of the musician’s mind.

Some musicians play from intuition, searching for expressions of beauty, passion, shock, sadness, and joy. The intuitive performer sometimes sounds sappy, gushy, corny, or sloppy because pitch, rhythm, and consistent control are not his foremost concern.

Other musicians are analytical, focusing on playing the notes correctly according to the marks on the page. The extreme form of the analytical musician functions like a musical robot, turning out sounds mechanically while suppressing all creative, human, emotional output.

Most musical kids grow up in the analytical path. They are scolded for inventing noises and improvising on their instruments. Band practice is about playing the correct notes and watching the director. Some kids sit there hardly making a sound so they will not get yelled at.

The intuitive kids are the ones who teach themselves how to play guitar or piano because they are fans of so-and-so. Sometimes there is a pride in being sloppy and untrained. I have met musicians who brag about not being able to read music and not even knowing the names of notes.

The struggle between intuitive and analytical can lead to performance problems. For example, imagine a musician is very intuitive when practicing. She enjoys practicing, enjoys exploring the music, and feels satisfied with her progress in getting more comfortable with her material. But when a performance comes along, she suddenly feels panic. Her analytical mind starts taking over, fueled by a sudden nervous surge of on-stage excitement. “How does that piece start?” “How fast should I play that thing?” “Am I playing that high part in tune?” It’s like having a committee meeting where one important member is brought in at the last second for a vote, but that member complains, “I don’t know what we’re voting on!”

Performance problems can come up for the analytical musician as well. SShe practices precisely, plays with sharp focus, good timing, and the correct articulations. When a performance comes along, she faces her intuitive mind, aroused from its hibernation by on-stage excitement. “What are all those people in the audience going to feel?” “Am I really ready for this?” “What if I sound boring?”

When practicing, notice which area you tend to emphasize. Are there ways to balance the analytical and intuitive sides in your practice?

Think about one of the music teachers you have had. Did that teacher have an emphasis on analytical or intuitive? Or did the teacher show a balance between the two, providing both structure and spontaneity?